Advantages & Disadvantages of Allowing Cell Phones in School

By Shea Laverty

Cell phones can be equally useful and disruptive in a school setting.
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As cell phones become increasingly prevalent among both adults and youth, many schools face an important question of policy -- whether or not to ban the phones on school grounds. Arguments both for and against allowing cell phones at schools tend to boil down to appropriate use and the effects of the phone's presence. Educators looking to make a decision for or against phones in the classroom generally need to look at both the positives and the negatives about allowing such devices.

Pro: Emergencies

Having a cell phone on hand enables a student to quickly summon assistance in the middle of an emergency. Incidences of violent attacks at a school, fires, kidnappings, medical emergencies and other emergencies can be reported quickly so that the appropriate authorities dispatched. Without the cell phones available on the scene, valuable time can be lost finding a nearby phone, dialing out of the school's phone network, and finally contacting the authorities.

Con: Student Distraction

Cell phones, and especially smartphones, can present considerable distraction to their owners and nearby classmates. Distractions come in the form of text messages, phone calls, unrestricted Internet access and any number of entertaining applications. When set to run silently, these phones can also distract both when students are in class and during free periods that ordinarily could be dedicated to studying.

Pro: Parental Contact

Allowing students to carry cell phones gives parents the ability to contact their children whenever necessary. This can include during family emergencies or when a student may need to arrange a different method of getting home. Likewise, students can contact their parents to arrange a ride home when ill, or they can request a forgotten book or project be brought to the school.

Con: Class Disruption

A cell phone going off can be extremely disruptive in the middle of class, interrupting a lecture or breaking student concentration during a test. Cell phones don't always simply make noise to inform of an incoming call; incoming text messages, low battery alerts and alerts from applications can all make disruptive noise or produce disruptive light.

Pro: Difficult Enforcement

Enforcing a cell phone ban can be be difficult and decidedly time-consuming. Most students are likely to carry the phone anyway in case of an emergency, and taking time to note every offense against the ban wastes the time that an educator could be using to teach students. Confiscating phones can lead to confrontations with parents, adding further administrative gridlock that can otherwise be avoided. As a result, acceptance can be a less time-consuming option than a ban.

Con: Theft

Allowing cell phones in schools invites the risk of theft. Many cell phones, and especially smartphones, can be particularly appealing targets to criminals who can remove or extract user data and then resell the phones. Keeping students' phones out of the school eliminates the risk of theft, and prevents the need for costly replacement of the phones.

Pro: Child Location

Most modern phones include a GPS transmitter that details the phone's location. While these transmitters are generally included for use in applications or monitoring the phone's location for roaming assessment, they also can be used to locate the owner in cases where they've gone missing. This can be vital in locating delinquent students or those who've gone missing during school hours.

Con: Cheating

With most smartphones featuring a fully featured Web browser, the potential for cheating has grown exponentially. Clever students can subtly look up the answers to test questions using search engines such as Google or online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. While careful monitoring often eliminates this issue, the potential for mischief is still considerable.